Posts Tagged troops
WASHINGTON – A proposal to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to counter drug trafficking has triggered a bureaucratic standoff between the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security over the military’s role in domestic affairs, officials in both departments said.
The debate has engaged a pair of powerful personalities – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – in what their subordinates describe as a turf fight over who should direct and pay for the use of troops to assist in the fight against Mexican cartels.
At issue is a proposal to send 1,500 additional troops to the border to analyze intelligence and provide air support and technical assistance to border agencies. The governors of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico made the request in January, drawing support from Napolitano but prompting objections from the Pentagon, where officials argue that it could lead to a permanent, expanded mission for the military.
President Barack Obama has signaled that he is open to the idea, asking Congress for $250 million to deploy the National Guard while also saying he was “not interested in militarizing the border.” The issue, which has been stalled before a National Security Council committee, will be decided by the president.
Neither Napolitano nor Gates has made the disagreement personal, although some of their aides have privately expressed exasperation at what one called an interagency “food fight.”
“It should not be that we always rely on the Department of Defense to fulfill some need,” said Gen. Victor Renuart Jr., head of the U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the continental United States.
Border law enforcement agencies should have adequate funds to do their job, Renuart said. If the Guard is tapped, it should be for capabilities “that do not exist elsewhere in government,” he said. “When we send the National Guard, they go with specific missions, with specific purposes. And we put some duration on that so there is an end state.”
Homeland Security officials and governors counter that there is a legitimate need for troops to back up border agencies against the most serious threat to the Southwest and that a deployment would not represent a new military mission. Under a 1989 law, the National Guard already assigns 577 soldiers to help states with anti-drug programs that “can easily expand,” the four governors wrote Congress in April.
Napolitano, who as governor of Arizona prompted President George W. Bush to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in 2006, has supported the governors.
The debate goes to the heart of the military’s role, which has expanded since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, with an increasing commitment of troops and resources to homeland defense, particularly to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear attack or other domestic catastrophe. The deployment of new troops to the border would represent a mission the military has not traditionally embraced.
“What we’re seeing here is a move toward reframing where defense begins and ends,” said Bert Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership.
The fight is largely over money. For the past two years, Pentagon budget officials have tried to slash funding for state drug-fighting operations, citing the financial strain of waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And military officials say governors could pay for their own Guard units. But governors contend that securing the border is a federal responsibility and that Washington should cover the cost.
Apr 2nd 2009 | EL PASO
But still pretty safe—on the northern side
IS MEXICO’S drug war moving north? In Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, officials are alarmed by a spike in kidnappings for ransom and “other Latin American-style violence”. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, wants the federal government to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops and six helicopters in his state. A spokeswoman for the governor said that the request, which the administration is considering, is to prevent the situation worsening.
But many mayors along the border say that troops are not needed, at least not yet. They dismiss such talk as alarmist. “The sky is falling? Well, here comes more funding,” says Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass. He says that his town, on a rugged stretch of the Texas border, is fine. He crosses the border to Piedras Negras daily, even though his sister in Los Angeles called and warned him not to go to Mexico.
On March 30th the United States’ Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on border violence at the campus of the University of Texas in El Paso. Jaime Esparza, the El Paso district attorney, said that he had not seen an increase in violence and nor had his colleagues in other Texan border cities.
El Paso’s Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juárez, is a different matter. With 2,000 killings since January 2008 it has become notorious (though the violence has abated since Mexico’s government sent 8,000 troops last month). El Paso itself had only 19 murders during the same period. Local leaders point out that their city is one of the safest in the United States, with a far lower crime rate than Washington, DC, the nation’s capital.
Downtown Ciudad Juárez has a forlorn air. The red-light district, a few blocks from one of the international bridges, was knocked down a few years ago and the area has not been redeveloped. Along the main pedestrianised street many shops are shuttered, windows are broken and pavements are crumbling. Heavily armed troops are stationed throughout the town.
El Pasoans say they feel safe at home, but nowadays make fewer trips across the border. Trini Lopez, the mayor of the suburb of Socorro, says that people have disappeared from his town and later been found dead in Mexico. For the time being, he is advising people to stay safe by staying in Socorro.